Friday, December 30, 2016

The Most Boring House Ever

It was summer vacation and we were on our way to visit my beautiful, wonderful mother-in-law. Despite having told my children that we were going to her “Mountain House,” they were surprised when we walked into a two-bedroom timeshare cottage instead of her large permanent home (complete with basement full of toys and books).

My six-year-old son turned to me and whined, “This is the most boring house ever!”

Whatever Will We DO? Read the answer at Fat Brain Toys...

Monday, December 26, 2016

Post-Christmas: It is ALL ABOUT BOWS

It is the day after Christmas and I am struck by the attention all the bows and leftover tissue are getting. I suppose the adornments of gifts are the sparkly counterpart to the empty box from which the toys came. And I'm here to tell you that is OK to stop cleaning up. Let your children play with the day-after debris.

Perhaps they will decorate their pet snake...

...Build a home for a frog, complete with lake, bed, and sparkling lilypads...

...or any other number of ways.

Kick back. Relax. And let the children play.

Merry merry.

How Custom Decorative Bows Make Gifts All the More Amazing

Pint-sized Independence at the Pumpkin Patch
In October, I wrote a story about finding a safe and appropriate place to let young children have complete freedom to make choices for themselves at the pumpkin patch. It is based on the premise that children learn to make good decisions by practicing making decisions, not following directions.

Past the Pumpkin Patch: Gift-Giving
The pumpkin patch isn't the only place that is low risk, high reward for inviting a young child to have full creative license. Any time you wrap a gift is also a good time to stop trying to control everything and let your child do it.. Since October, this is the first opportunity our family has had for a blog-worthy 

It was the day before Christmas. I had finished putting wrapping paper and labels on all the gifts I would be giving the next day. I turned to the box of bows and ribbons and thought, "I bet my daughter would like to do this with me." It was another opportunity to bite my tongue and let my daughter have free reign over something. (A rare thing when we are constrained by travel during the holidays.) 

Custom Bows
I invited her in to the gift-wrapping room. "Would you like to help me decorate the gifts with bows?" I asked. I imagined her choosing one bow for each gift, putting some tape on it, sticking it on the wrapped box, and being done. 

But no.

My daughter looked at the materials: bows, ribbons, yarn, tape, scissors, and saw an opportunity to be creative. Luckily, I wasn't in a hurry and I could stand by, watch in amazement, and be her assistant. 

Amazing Adornments
She proceeded to surprise me with her artistic aesthetic
  • Ribbon was cut and wrapped only part-way around the box (the front, not the back). 
  • Some ribbon was sliced up the middle into two strips of narrow sparkle. 
  • Colors were certainly NOT coordinated with the wrapping paper. 
  • In fact, when yarn and ribbon were alternated to make candy-cane stripes across the entire package, the paper was redundant.
  • Tape was used down the middle of things instead of on the edges or hiding discretely underneath things. 
What resulted was a collection of completely custom-designed, hand-made adornments for our family. Treasures, indeed.

A Variety of Materials, Plus LOTS of Tape
If you're ready to hand over the job of decorating gifts to your young child then you'll need a couple of things:
  • Patience (possibly in the form of a glass of wine while you watch your child work)
  • An open mind
  • Materials for decorating: stickers, ribbon, scissors, (developmentally-appropriate arts/crafts stuff).
  • Tape. Lots and lots of tape.
Gift-giving is the kind of thing that happens year-round at birthdays, Thursdays, and holidays. I invite you to make time and space for your child to help make the gifts even more special, more unique, than you can probably imagine they could ever be.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

{GUEST POST} Loving a 2e Child During His Holiday Performance

Parenting an autistic child is sometimes like parenting a typical child; we have our good days and our bad days and ups and downs within those days. Like all children, autistic children have unique quirks. However, the quirky behaviors are so egregious that autistic children are often disinvited to participate in normal parts of life. The parent’s role is to determine what types of things are important for the child to experience and what accommodations would support him or her in doing so.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Cool Toy Alert: Toroflux

My kid came home from school raving about a toy he discovered in the principal's office. By the miracle of Google, I was able to find it my first try by typing "rings twirl connected toy" and what I found was something worthy of sharing here. It is called "Toroflux" by Flow Toys. One look at a still photo of this toy and it is no wonder that my kid picked it up...

...and after watching a video of Toroflux in action I understand why he fell in love.

A mesmerizing kinetic sculpture and an interactive "flow toy" that's like a 4th dimensional "slinky". It folds down in a spiral direction to form a ring of rings and with a subtle movement, it pops open into a full torus of interconnected rings, surprising everyone. Comes with a mini-biner, so you can easily clip it to your bag or belt loop and bring it everywhere to share and spread the fun :)

We managed to locate a knock-off one made by GeoFlux at our local awesome toystore. So we're heading out for my son to spend his allowance on it. 

For you, dear Preschool Engineering fans, I invite you to find it at your favorite local toy store or stash the idea away for a rainy day Amazon shopping spree. 

Sunday, December 11, 2016

It's Hers Now: the Unexpected Life Lessons of Gift-Giving

In the fall of 2015, my family listened to an audio recording of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis. All of us enjoyed hearing how four children discovered a magical portal to the world of Narnia. First, the youngest child accidentally found her way to Narnia. Then the second-youngest child went by himself. Finally all four children went to the magical world together, explored, and ultimately became kings and queens. It was a wonderful examination of the paradox of humanity (especially childhood): becoming independent individuals within a group.

Around the same time we were listening to the story, I found inspiration for making peg dolls. Instantly, I felt the pull of my creative impulse. I knew I had to make peg dolls of Lucy, Edmund, Susan, and Peter and the White Witch to give to my daughter, who loves dolls. Paired with a wooden lion, it would be perfect.

Read the rest at Fat Brain Toys...

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

The Best Way to Use Old Marker Ink - Paint the Snow!

Dried Up Markers
A couple months ago I explained how you can salvage ink in dried up markers. By putting them in bottles of water and letting the ink leach out into the bottle, you can create liquid water colors.

Mediocre Watercolors on Paper --> Color the Snow
In that post, you can see that the water colors do not make terribly vivid colors on paper. However, that isn't why I make these liquid water colors. I make these liquid water colors for winter.

The Biggest Canvas of All
When it snows, our backyard becomes the biggest canvas of all. The white snow practically screams "PAINT ME!" And so we do.

I stand at the back door to refill empty bottles. The kids squirt their colors all over the yard. Not only is it great fun to color such a large canvas, it is fun to watch the water erode the snow. We can fill an hour with this activity!

Tips that Work
- Dilute the colors. You don't need much liquid water color to make vivid colors on the snow. I use a finger of color and fill the rest of the bottle with water.
- Use hot water. It feels good on their hands in the cold weather.

Get Ready Before the Next Big Snow
These are the things we have on hand that you will need.
- DIY Liquid Water colors
- Condiment bottles. (I get mine for cheap at the local thrift store.)

If you do a little prep now then the next snow storm will bring your children the biggest art project of your lives...for now.

Adventures in ING: GivING

Adventures in ING
ING is a wonderful world where kindness is important. In fact, kindness is the most important thing in ING and all the elves, sprites, fairies, and gnomes who live there celebrate kindness every chance they get. They celebrate small kindnesses like when someone smiles at them and they smile back. And they celebrate big kindnesses when someone smiles at them and they smile back.

One of the best things about ING is that everyone knows that there are countless ways of being kind and countless ways of celebrating kindness. The tricky thing for humans to learn is how to notice kindnesses. Humans have to learn to notice when other people are being kind to them just as much as the need to learn to notice when they are being kind to others (and themselves). (Yes! You can practice being kind to yourself!)

But...once someone learns how to notice kindness, many wonderful things happen. First, they start to see kindness everywhere. Then they are able to be kind wherever they go. And the funny thing about being kind - the more you do it, the more you want to do it, and the more ways you imagine to do it!

Those are the Adventures in ING. Noticing kindnesses. Being kind. Imagining new ways of being kind.

December is for Giving
The elves from ING take turns inviting humans to practice being kind. Every once in a while a couple of experts from ING offer ideas about how little humans can learn about giving, sharing, caring, loving, laughing, and living in kindness.

In December the Giving Elves, named Portu and Porvu, like to imagine all the ways to be kind through giving.

A Letter of Introduction
When they arrive, Portu and Porvu like to introduce themselves because that is the kind (and polite) thing to do.
Dear Little Humans, 
Our names are Portu and Porvu. We are elves from ING, Giving elves to be exact. We like to visit little humans, like yourselves, in December. Together we can imagine all the ways we can bring kindness to others through giving.
We look forward to doing this fun and important work with you! Sincerely,  
Portu & Porvu

What is Giving?
After introducing themselves, Portu and Porvu like to explain a little about Giving.

Giving is the simple act of offering something you have to someone else. 

Four Weeks of Giving - Some Ideas

Then Portu and Porvu suggest some ways to notice giving and even ways to practice giving. Once a week, they ask the children to notice when other people give something to them and when they give something to others.


Dear Little Humans,  
A sign of affection is a gentle way of touching someone. 
It can be a hug, a high-five, a friendly pat on the back, or a gentle squeeze of the hand (we like to call these "hand hugs"). 
You can hug yourself or... 
...ask someone if you can hug them. 
We think Giving Affection is easy! Do you think you can Give Affection to someone today? Tomorrow? Every day this week? 
Portu & Porvu 


Dear Little Humans,  
A kind word can change someone's day. "Please" and "Thank you" are kind words. So are Compliments. 
Compliments usually start with "I like..." or "I feel happy when..." You can say things like "I like the bright color of your shirt."  or "I feel happy when we play together." You can Give a Compliment to yourself and to other people! You can say compliments out loud or sing them. You can even write them down. 
We think Giving Kind Words is easy! Do you think you can Give Kind Words to someone today? Tomorrow? Every day this week? 
Portu & Porvu 

Dear Little Humans,  
Goods are things that you can hold in your hand like food, money, or presents. 
We like to give food to all sorts of people. Sometimes we make cookies for our neighbors. Other times we make a meal for people who cannot afford to make their own meal. 
We also like to draw pictures or make something special for our family or friends.
We think Giving Goods is fun! Do you think you can Give Goods to someone today? Tomorrow? Every day this week? 
Portu & Porvu 


Dear Little Humans,  
Giving Space is sometimes the easiest thing to give! Here are some ways you can Give Space to someone: 
- You can hold the door open for someone. - You can move over to let someone sit next to you. - You can let someone else go first. - You can even give space to yourself by finding a quiet place to hide when things are loud.   
We think Giving Space is tricky but fun! Do you think you can Give Space to someone today? Tomorrow? Every day this week? 
Portu & Porvu 

Saying Goodbye
Before departing, the Giving elves say goodbye because that is the kind thing to do.

Dear Little Humans, 
We have had great fun with you. Thank you for practicing giving with us. You had many clever ways of giving big and giving small. And every kindness counts! 
Portu & Porvu


A Letter of Transition
If you are recovering from Elf on the Shelf, then here is a letter to introduce the world of ING, and its agents to your family.
Dear Little Humans, 
Our names are Portu and Porvu. We are elves from ING, Giving elves to be exact. We heard that the Elf on the Shelf was causing problems by looking for problems. Well we are optimists and like to look for good things instead of bad things. It is a much nicer way to see the world, don't you think? We are here to teach the Elf on the Shelf about the goodest goodness in life - kindness. 
We like to visit little humans, like yourselves, in December. Together we can imagine all the ways we can bring kindness to others through giving.
We look forward to doing this fun and important work with you! Sincerely,  
Portu & Porvu

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

To Do Homework or Not: That is Not the Question

To Do Homework or Not
Until we were in the thick of it, I always thought I would forbid my son from doing homework. We have spent years cultivating playful independent learning and we are really good at it. So why not keep doing it?

Because he wants to do homework, kind of. Of course, it is arguable that he wants to do homework because he wants to please his teacher and fit in at school. They tell him, “Homework makes you smarter.” He believes them. His classmates believe them. His classmates’ parents believe them.

And I am the odd woman out.

Treat it as an Invitation
What I have discovered is a happy medium. I do not actively oppose homework nor do I actively push it on my child.

I treat it as an invitation to learn.

Read the entire article at Fat Brain Toys...

Friday, December 2, 2016

Adventures in ING

The Paradox of Wanting an Elf
Upon decorating our Christmas tree, my son lamented, "I wish an elf would visit." That statement surprised me because I remember the Elf on the Shelf experience he had had when we visited family for Christmas a few years ago...he didn't like it. My sensitive little guy grew increasingly anxious about being bad. And then when Christmas had passed he exclaimed with relief, "I'm so glad that Elf is gone!"

Craving Holiday Magic
Clearly my child is craving a magical experience. One that comes with the ideas of fancy fantastical creatures that bring love and joy to our world. I thought about all the Alternatives to Elf on the Shelf that I have heard about but one thing keeps nagging at me. It is this:

kindness and generosity are aspirations worthy of year-round attention.

A New Tradition
That is when it occurred to me to create a new tradition. By creating my own elves I could do two things: use them to solve a problem and teach the Elf on the Shelf the power of positivity, and I could kick off a year's worth of kindness curriculum (for lack of a better term).

Adventures in ING
So begins the Adventures in ING.  In the coming months I hope to make one pair of elves for each month and an accompanying list of ideas that explore each core concept. Here is the first draft of our year of Adventures in ING:

December - Giving
January - Smiling
February - Loving
March - Reading
April - Planning, Planting
May - Blooming
June - Adventuring
July - Listening
August - Dreaming
September - Teaching
October - Changing
November - Thanking

There are so many Adventures in ING to be had! I keep coming up with more ideas that I will build on: Remembering, Caring, Laughing, Resolving, Comforting, Writing, Playing, Walking, Painting

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Fan Favorites - November 2016

LEGO's New Line of Female Superheroes
LEGO uses some of the most iconic DC superheroes and super-villains and reinvents them as students at Super Hero High. 

The Joyful, Illiterate Kindergartners of Finland
I keep hearing the word "efficient" when people are talking about emergent curriculum and playful learning...

No More Time-Outs and Reward Charts: Psychologist Advices Parents to Ditch Traditional Approaches to Discipline
What we need instead, she argues, is to let compassion and understanding guide us to make more effective decisions with our kids. In the moment, it often means calmly taking the misbehaving child aside, and attempting to identify and understand the source of their behaviour before addressing it directly.

Mindfulness Card Games: Nurturing Compassion and Peace in Our Families

"Tucker isn’t interested in adding another “to-do” item to the busy lives of families today. Rather, her beautifully crafted cards provide creative means of nurturing mindfulness, compassion and reflections on peace for all members of a family, and they can be spontaneously used during mealtime, on the way to school, in the morning or right before bed.
Tucker is dedicated to helping parents shift out of punishment-based methods of child rearing and focus instead on evidence-based practices centered on connection.
Hence, positive themes, images and teachings drawn from Tucker’s life as a mother, researcher, parent educator and student of yoga are present in PeaceMakers."

Dinosaur Earrings

When you have the privilege of a safe home...
Your success as a family, our success as a society, depends not on what happens in the White House but on what happens in your house.

According to a press release, the retailer partnered with charity Age UK "to drive awareness and support for some of the millions of older people who can go for a month without speaking to anyone. "
"We hope the ad inspires people to find really special gifts for their loved ones," said customer director Craig Inglis. "Through our partnership with Age UK, [we hope to] raise awareness of the issue of loneliness amongst older people and encourage others to support in any way they can."

Once a Year at 11:11AM the Sun Shines Perfectly on This Memorial
At precisely 11:11 a.m. each Veterans Day (Nov. 11), the sun’s rays pass through the ellipses of the five Armed Services pillars to form a perfect solar spotlight over a mosaic of The Great Seal of the United States.

An Age by Age Guide for What to Expect From Kids – And What They Need From Us

Here are some important developmental stages and the difficult behaviour that might come with them. You’ll often find that their behaviour, though unruly and baffling at times, is completely normal and a sign that your child is flourishing and making his or her way through childhood or adolescence exactly as they are meant to.  
The ages of the stages are just a guide. When checking to see whether your kids are on track, read the stages around the actual age of your child. The progression through the stages is more important than the age at which this happens. As long as kids are moving through the stages, it doesn’t matter if they get there slower than other kids. 

My Kids have too much stuff

"What if, instead of constant decluttering, and then recluttering with new things, we brought in less in the first place?"

Cooperation & 3D Pre-Math

The Stanford professor who pioneered praising kids for effort says we've totally missed the point
“It was never just effort in the abstract,” Dweck tells Quartz. “Some educators are using it as a consolation play, saying things like ‘I tell all my kids to try hard’ or ‘you can do anything if you try’.”
“That’s nagging, not a growth mindset,” she says.
The key to instilling a growth mindset is teaching kids that their brains are like muscles that can be strengthened through hard work and persistence. So rather than saying “Not everybody is a good at math. Just do your best,” a teacher or parent should say “When you learn how to do a new math problem, it grows your brain.” Or instead of saying “Maybe math is not one of your strengths,” a better approach is adding “yet” to the end of the sentence: “Maybe math is not one of your strengths yet.”